Archive for October, 2012

Originally posted at The Sports Fan Journal, October 23

 

This is The Sports Fan Journal, and at the heart of it all, that is exactly what we all are. So for a moment here, I’m going to step aside from analysis and presenting things as they are and be just that, a sports fan. I’m going to be a sports fan that’s in the grip of the absolute most crippling part of fanhood: the devastating loss. But not just so much for the gist of losing a season, but for everything that sports truly is for some of us. The all-encompassing, reality-gripping, life-is-on-the-line event that it can play out to be. Because really, it is never is just a game, especially if you’re not playing it.

Let me back up a step here and speak to the obvious first. I’m bit of a baseball lifer and from St. Louis, Missouri, so the obvious is what it is. The St. Louis Cardinals lost the National League Championship Series last night and simultaneously lost their grip on their title as World Champions as well. In some cases, that’s all it is: good game, they fought hard and things look good for next year. But it’s never just really that for me, because I was raised with the franchise being always there. As long back as I can remember, I had two things tacked on my wall: pennants from the 1985 and 1987 World Series, featuring the St. Louis Cardinals. I didn’t know about Don Denkinger in ’85 then or about the Twins holding down home field in ’87 then. I just knew baseball and the Cardinals. So they became synonymous for me.

I’m a generation removed from a five-kid family that grew up in the ’60s with a ton of other kids in the same neighborhood. They played baseball nonstop and handed the attention of it down to me. So it’s in my blood to say the least. The game is right there with everything else I’ve ever known, like shoes and Laffy Taffy. It’s a personal institution.

And for all of this, the guy I’ve got to pay all of this homage to is my father. I think the first toy I ever had was a big red baseball bat, and when he’d get off work he’d come outside and pitch to me, no matter how tired he probably was, as my life now makes clear to me daily by five or six o’clock. He took me to countless games over the years and really taught me what’s become my greatest passion. Times we spend at the ballpark have grown to become some of the greatest times of my life. He’s been a Cardinal fan for 49 years now, through nine Cardinal World Series trips, yet has not been to a World Series game yet….

 

For the rest of this article, head over to the CHEAP SEATS at The Sports Fan Journal here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/life-times-st-louis-cardinals-fan-game-7-san-francisco-giants/

And for everything else, including yes, the World Series and my takes on this alternate universe version of it, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Can a one-man race have two people in it? Because if that can be allowed, the 2012 American League was the perfect example it with its most valuable player push. Early on, not only was there no doubt that Josh Hamilton was the best player in baseball, it was beginning to get to the point that it was time to talk about his half-season in a historical context. However, he hit a low point mid-season that opened up the door for another sensational talent to grab his place in the spotlight.

Mike Trout’s season needs no introduction, and I won’t give it another one here. But his non-stop all-around performance was so immense; it may have taken the shine from Hamilton’s effort anyway. He turned in one of the great campaigns in Major League history and made the biggest immediate impact on baseball since Ichiro and Pujols both arrived together in 2001.

These two hogged the spotlight for 90% of the year, with Adam Jones, Derek Jeter and Adrian Beltre all making their bids to crash the party as well. However, while this was going on, there was another perennial threat that was putting together his dominant year….only at a new level. There were rumblings about what he was on the verge of, and then it became clear that while the attention was on the coasts, history was going to be made in the middle, and Miguel Cabrera rightfully pulled the great MVP heist in many years.

In my final ballot for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance award season, the Stan Musial Award for AL MVP goes to an effort that was much in the vein that both Stan’s career and place in history have stood. An excellent effort, that was largely missed looking every else, until the last second.

 

2012 AL Stan Musial Award—Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

Much of the greatness of Cabrera has been slow to be realized. Somehow, he’s carved out a niche where he is among the most feared hitters in the game, but still not the most recognized. Perhaps because he hasn’t won an individual award, has bounced around a few positions and/or was so young when he won his World Series with the Florida Marlins, that it seems like a different career. But there will be no doubt that his place in the game will be not only properly noted now; it will be respected throughout history. Because in becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, and the first undisputed one in 46, he resoundingly took his place as the best hitter in the world.

But while winning the Triple Crown is the biggest feather in his cap, it’s not what definitively seals him as the MVP of the year. It’s that he was quietly the most clutch player in baseball over the season’s last two months. The Detroit Tigers were on the verge of being the most disappointing team in baseball, from an existing expectation standpoint. In July and August, he hit .344 and .357 respectively, then turned on his power stroke in September, clubbing 10 homers in the season’s final month. He put the team on his back, and kept moving faster and faster up both the standings and League Leader boards.

In the end, the Tigers won the Central and Cabrera won his second consecutive batting title, hitting .330. In the process he set a career high in RBI with 139, and jumped his final hurdle to baseball immortality when he hit his 43rd homer, ultimately finishing with 44. Outside of his key, star-aligned numbers, Cabrera also added 205 hits and 40 doubles, while his .999 on-base + slugging percentage lead the AL as well. All of this effort pulled him into immortality, the Tigers back to October has well.

And now, the name of Miguel Cabrera (who is only 29 as well), must be mentioned on equal tier with the bests of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Medwick, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski. And whether it takes five or another 45 years to pull off the three crown trick again, that’s a mountain where he’ll never be looked over again.

 

The Best of the Rest

2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: All that’s needed to understand how good his year was is that the precocious AL leader in steals, runs scored and Wins Above Replacement had such a strong debut it cast doubt over the validity of the Triple Crown as being the measuring stick of absolute excellence.

3. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers: If Hamilton’s first half (.308/27/75) would have carried over to the second half, the wall of immortals Cabrera joined would have had Hamilton’s name on it instead.

4. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers: When Hamilton wilted, Beltre stepped up. He hit .334 in the second half and still remains as the best corner glove in baseball.

5. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees: It’s tough to be the best Yankee, and get the notice that you deserve. But yet again he reached a new personal high, hitting 33 home runs and adding 48 doubles and 196 hits as well.

6. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles: The leader of the Orioles great surge through the year and played in every game of the year, setting new career highs in hits, doubles, home runs, average and runs scored.

7. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: How do you follow up a year where you join the 3,000 hit club and top the career Yankee hits list? Come back and rack up a league leading 216 hits at 38 years old, the second highest total of his career.

8. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: He didn’t have the complete transcendent year he had in 2011, but Verlander won a ton of crucial games down the stretch and topped the AL in strikeouts for a second consecutive year.

9. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels: Trout got many of the headlines around the Angels success, but the team still played at its best when he was at his, and he topped 30 home runs for a MLB-record 12th consecutive year.

10. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: King Felix’s influence was so strong that he made the Mariners the best last place club in baseball all while only contributing every fifth day. He offered a Perfect Game in August and struck out 100 while walking only 14 from June to August.

 

MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS, recap & preview

October 9Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout

October 11—Walter Johnson/Pitcher of the Year Award: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander

October 11Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Award

October 12—Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award: Buster Posey & Miguel Cabrera

 

For more on the run through a crazy October, and tomorrow’s big MVP announcement in the CHEAP SEATS, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

The National League was full of clearly dominant teams in 2012, but the guiding hand behind them was ever changing. It was a league that had its statistical batting champ, Melky Cabrera, disqualified via the first official, unofficial asterisk ever issued by the MLB. Saw the best player of his generation in Albert Pujols jump ship from the defending World Champions…and that team produce more MVP candidates than ever before in his absence. It saw the rise of a dead in the water Pittsburgh Pirates team, centered on a diversely talented, if not misfit offering of players.

Like many other seasons, it came in shifts. At different point throughout the summer a former MVP in Joey Votto put an assault on the all-time doubles record. David Wright made hitting .400 look like easy work. Andrew McCutchen made EVERYTHING look easy all at once. Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and then Yadier Molina all took shifts in pushing the dynamic St. Louis Cardinals’ offense. Later on, Chase Headley and the defending MVP in Ryan Braun put on a crush to pull their teams up the standings, and their own numbers up the leaderboard.

But in the end, the biggest difference maker was a guy that’s not new to the position, because he’s been doing it since the moment he touched the Majors. He just decided to not be subtle about it this time around, because he played with a sense of urgency that no one else could match.

2012 NL Stan Musial Award—Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

Over his three year career, no player’s presence has meant more to his team’s place in the game than Posey’s. As a rookie in 2010, his promotion sparked the Giants on run that landed himself a Rookie of the Year, and his club a World Championship. Last year, his season was ended early with a broken leg, which simultaneously tossed San Francisco down into third place for the remainder of the year. Coincidence? Absolutely not.

By definition, a most valuable player is one that is the most indispensable to his team’s success, due to his performance. For Posey, it goes a step further, because of the attitude and presence he brings as the catcher to one of the best rotations in the game. He calls a fantastic ballgame, which propels the entire pitching staff of the Giants to an even higher level than their substantial talent already ranks them. He is a no-nonsense competitor that refused a full-time split arrangement as a first baseman also this season due to the message it would send to his teammates. He’s a gamer, and that’s only half the equation in understanding his importance.

He’s simply one of the most talented catchers in the game when the overall ability behind the plate is quietly approaching an all-time high. Agree with how it came to be or not, his .336 average won him the National League batting title and made him the first catcher to do so since 1942. He achieved this via a ridiculous .433 average vs. left-handers and a .385 second-half average, both MLB bests as well. Along the way he set career highs in every category, including topping 100 RBI for the first time with 24 homers and 39 doubles as well.

However, the most important number of his year? 94, the number of wins the Giants total in recapturing the West with the return of their MVP, and now, the National League’s as well.

 Best of the Rest

2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers: A year that started with accusations, and late the absolution, of PED use, Braun had a better year than he did in winning the MVP a year before. Even without the protection of Prince Fielder, he led the NL in home runs (41), runs scored (108) and total bases (356).

3. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals: The best glove in the game added took his offense to the next level as well. He was fourth in the NL in batting average at .315 and topped 20 homers as well. He also threw out 48% of runs that attempted to steal on him, for good measure.

4. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: He did everything he could to break the Pirates sub-.500 streak. While he couldn’t accomplish that, he did lead the NL in hits with 194.

5. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals: He inherited the third spot in the Cards’ lineup, and responded by hitting .340 or better in three separate months.

6. David Wright, New York Mets: Health was finally Wright’s friend again, and in response he topped both 40 doubles and 20 home runs, while also hitting .308.

7. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres: You could win a good bar bets by asking who led the NL in home runs and RBI in the second half. The answer is Headley, who knocked in 73 of his NL leading 115 RBI post-ASG.

8. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds: He could have shattered the all-time record for doubles in a season if not mid-season knee surgery. He still finished with 44, tied for second best in the NL despite having 230 less at-bats than the guy he tied with.

9. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals: His first half was so good (20 homers, 65 RBI) he literally made the loss of Pujols somewhat of a non-factor.

10. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves: One of the best-rounded contributors in the game, was most essential everyday player in the A. Splitting time between left field and every infield position, he was fourth in hits in the NL with 186 and hit .301 as well.

Later today, the ballot for AL’s Stan Musial Award will be revealed…

 

October 9—Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10—Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout

October 11—Walter Johnson/Pitcher of the Year Awards: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander

October 11—Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Awards: Craig Kimbrel & Fernando Rodney

October 12—Stan Musial/Most Valuable Player Awards: Buster Posey

For more on each ballot and the mania that is October baseball, in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan